No side deal for soldiers, Theresa. If you can legislate for the language, you can legislate for the legacy

It  would  be hard to find an issue that  illustrates how little Northern Ireland matters to some Conservative MPs as the campaign to halt police investigations into cases of alleged army misconduct during the Troubles. It’s not so much calculated indifference as blimpish blindness.

This was the question to Theresa May at PMQs today:

22 February 2017


Q9. If she will take steps to introduce legislative proposals to provide legal protection to former military personnel who served in Northern Ireland at least equivalent to that offered to former republican and loyalist paramilitaries. [908796]

As I have made clear, I think it is absolutely appalling when people try to make a business out of dragging our brave troops through the courts. In the case of Northern Ireland, 90% of deaths were caused by terrorists, and it is essential that the justice system reflects that. It would be entirely wrong to treat terrorists more favourably than soldiers or police officers. That is why, as part of our work to bring forward the Stormont House agreement Bill, we will ensure that investigative bodies are under a legal duty to be fair, balanced and proportionate so that our veterans are not unfairly treated or disproportionately investigated.

While I welcome that reply, it does not go quite as far as I and many other people would like. There is no prospect of new credible evidence coming forward against our veterans of the troubles up to 40 years after the event, yet people are starting to use the same techniques in Northern Ireland against them as were used against veterans of Iraq. Surely the answer has to be a statute of limitations preventing the prosecution of veterans to do with matters that occurred prior to the date of the Belfast agreement.

As my right hon. Friend knows, we are looking at this issue as part of the Stormont House agreement. What we are doing is ensuring that the investigative bodies responsible for looking at deaths during the troubles will operate in a fair, balanced and proportionate manner. We want cases to be considered in chronological order, and we want these protections enshrined in legislation. We are going to consult fully on these proposals, because we want to make sure that we get this right.

The first thing to notice about the question is that it limits the application of  statute of limitations to the Army. The police are not included, being mere “Irish,” even though the terrorist threat to individual police officers who lived in NI was greater than to individual soldiers whose service was rotated.

Secondly, Theresa May replied that the government were “looking at the issue as part of the Stormont House Agreement.” Not a word in her briefing notes that as far as the Executive is concerned, the Stormont House Agreement has collapsed.

Some consolation may be found in her deflecting the question and adding:  “we want to make sure we get this right.”

“Getting it right” means Westminster comprehensively legislating for dealing with past during whatever time the Assembly is dormant, as the UK government, not the dysfunctional Assembly were legally responsible throughout the Troubles. They should also lift the DUP’s  refusal to fund inquests  forthwith. Because Sinn Fein demands  this doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

As well as living up to their responsibilities rather than dumping it on the hapless locals, Westminster would be doing the community and the parties a huge favour, by determining the shape of the legislation to recognise no hierarchy of victims for the purposes of long overdue support and an independent cases review.

If they can legislate for the Irish language they can legislate for the legacy.

You don’t have to believe in equivalence between  terrorists and soldiers  to reject as a fundamental injustice any prospect of a statue of limitations for soldiers alone. I doubt if it would   get past the judges in any case.

That is not to deny  that discrimination and a sense of proportion are  necessary. The PSNI seemed to be setting themselves  to fail and perversely  proving a point by selecting  doomed high profile  inquiries such as  reopening Bloody Sunday and interrogating Gerry Adams about Mrs McConville’s  murder. On the other hand, DPPNI ‘s  answers to criticism was either ignored by Julian Brazier or  unknown to him.

A number of unionist and Conservative MPs have claimed cases involving the army are being unfairly prioritised.

“That is just not correct, that is inaccurate,” Mr McGrory told the BBC.

“We have taken decisions in three army cases recently, one was not to prosecute and in the other two prosecutions have been initiated.

“In the overall context of what we do these are a tiny number of cases. We receive 40,000 files a year, we take over 2,000 cases a year to the Crown court, and we are talking here about three cases.

“Even in terms of legacy cases, the reality is that we have prosecuted more legacy cases connected with paramilitary cases than we have in respect of military cases.”

Mr McGrory says a number of cases involving former soldiers were coming to court now because of inquests and referrals from the Attorney General for Northern Ireland.

I am personally offended by the remarks, but I am more offended on behalf of the individuals who work for the public prosecution service and who do a fantastic job, so I think those who are making those comments ought to think a bit carefully before they speak in such a way.”

Critics have also questioned how the director of the PPS could decide to charge former soldiers when one of his predecessors said there was insufficient evidence to merit a prosecution

They have suggested Mr McGrory reached a different conclusion based on the same evidence.

“That’s just inaccurate,” he says.

“In each of the three soldier cases this office has examined, there has been new evidence.

“Whether that be evidence which has been forthcoming following an inquest and referred to me by the coroner, pursuant to the powers available to the coroners, or new evidence obtained by the PSNI in the context of its investigations, or in any other context through ballistics or forensic evidence which has emerged through a variety of routes since the original decision was taken.

“Anyone who has said this is a re-taking of a decision in respect of which nothing else has changed is quite simply wrong.”

The fact that such special treatment for soldiers can even be discussed n present conditions shows  just how unregarded Northern Ireland  is in Conservative circles.  The DUP be warned.

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  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    May has proved once again that like all Tories from the Shires she is completely ignorant about Northern Ireland. It’s obvious that she cares more about placating the Daily Mail reading ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ brigade.

    I really don’t hold out any hope for May and her government to handle ‘the Northern Irish question’ in the Brexit negotiations with any grace, understanding or tact.

    To quote a Caledonian Home Guardsman
    ‘We’re Doomed!’

  • Korhomme

    For the Tory MP, ‘United Kingdom’ is synonymous with ‘Great Britain’ (which is the island of England, Wales and Scotland) and Great Britain actually means England.

    However, as the PM might well need the votes of the 8 DUP MPs in times of Brexit, she could throw them a few scraps as a sweetener.

  • Jag

    “It would be entirely wrong to treat terrorists more favourably than soldiers or police officers. ”

    Shouldn’t all citizens – be they policemen, soldiers, bakers, postmen – be treated the same before the law? If the evidence exists to prosecute soldiers or postmen for killings 40 years ago, then they should all be prosecuted.

  • johnny lately

    Why anyone is surprised by this latest insult by the British against their Irish victims is truly mind boggling when you consider their past and present history around the world and as if the PSNI’s handling of the Finucane case is not bad enough, the revelation about the MOD wanting to withhold files in relation to Kingsmills is shocking and disturbing. I’d bet my bottom dollar not only is Jamie Bryson right about protecting an informer but Willie Frazer has hit the nail on the head with his assumptions about Robert Nairac.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    The DUP are little more than useful idiots with funny accents to the Tories in Westminster

  • Slater

    It is not that they don’t care, it is that they don’t understand.
    But what they do understand, as most metropolitans cannot comprehend, is a state that abandons its veterans is in danger and never more so when those veterans are taking to the streets – this month for the first time in 40 years over Northern Ireland.
    That is a telling change that actually went unreported by BBC NI.
    Legacy inquiries may be an alternative to war but their political hegemony is waning.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    To be fair, I don’t think they care much either.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    So start to take steps, with Scotland, to stay in the EU. Where you will, as is not the case with Westminster, have a voice, a vote and a veto.

  • Westie tyrone

    I really do enjoy slugger its a great form .mick .its great .far best than facebook you can engage with folk well done mick and its fair unlike some papers and media outlets .well done

  • Westie tyrone

    I agree because soilders in n ireland worked for british goverment .and they have duty off care towards them .have all they took a oath too protect queen and country .i think its a smoke screen .and the tory goverment will no allow .soldiers .too .be brought before a court .they cant most tory mps served them sevles there would be .a up roar .think sinn fein will get something on irish .but not much and stromont will go on .jobs for the boys .blind leading the blind .

  • Korhomme

    Lord Melvyn Bragg presents ‘Reel History of Britain’ on BBC4. Tonight, it’s about the Silver Jubilee in 1977. He described the Queen making a tour of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

    If he doesn’t know his geography, what hope is there for a Tory MP?

  • Ciaran O’Neill

    Nail on the head. We literally have a government who is prepared to more or less give immunity to their troops who served here. With this blatant disregard for the lives of citizens here, how anyone in their right mind thinks this government will give a fiddlers about us in the Brexit negotiations is beyond most logically thinking people.

    “We’ll kill you with impunity Patrick but dont worry we’ll jolly well make sure we’ll look after you in the negotiations. After all, my grandmother is from County Dundalk old bean”

  • Brian Walker

    You obviously missed the BBCNI reports

  • Brian Walker

    Its only fair to note as I reported, that the PM did not agree with the backbencher.

  • Conchúr Ó Conghaile

    That ‘And’ is important. It’s always been ‘and Northern Ireland’ as Northern Ireland has always been viewed as an additional afterthought and not really part of the country.

  • johnny lately

    The AND is in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom there is no “And”.

  • Korhomme

    I can only remember hearing GB and NI, not UK and NI.

    But it suggests the idea that NI is a ‘semi-detached’ part of the UK; and, some at least would say NI is likewise ‘semi-detached’ from the Republic. It’s sort of part of both and sort of part of neither. (Schrödinger’s statelet?)

  • Mike the First


    And all should be subject to the same early release scheme.

  • Sharpie

    That is what an amnesty would entail. A clever truth recovery process would have had this over and done with a long time ago. It is the refusal to give up the truth by the State that is the issue. There is no prospect of combatants giving up their stories without reciprocation and it has never been offered. Therefore a threatened statute of limitation is entirely within the expected strategy of the British State – it is another big lump of furniture to add to all the chairs and wardrobe already piled against the truth door.

    Implementing it without consensus or agreement of some form is a dicey act.

  • Croiteir

    they are doing what the unionist have always done, represent British policy in Ireland

  • file

    OK then, when the British Army decommissions and disbands, it can then be subject to the early release scheme …

    A soldier of a state is not a terrorist. A terrorist can do whatever he wants (shooting people in the back, kidnapping and torturing people, deliberately targeting civilians, etc.) and then be prosecuted for these acts when he is caught. A soldier of a state is permitted to kill people in defined circumstances. If he does not stick to those defined circumstances, he is an enemy of the state and a danger to it, and must be prosecuted by the state if caught. Now it the soldier happens to be able to prove that he was instructed to ignore the defined circumstances by superiors or by politicians, that makes for a more interesting court case, but the individual soldier cannot rely on either of these as excuses:
    a) I was only following orders;
    b) sure that’s the way the terrorists were acting.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    It seems to me that soldiers/police etc should be held to a higher standard than we would hold ‘terrorists’ – or else what’s the point?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You’re right, the phrase “UK and NI” is simply wrong and makes no sense.

  • Barneyt

    Ye see whilst I understand why SF cannot attend Westminster … we all know why …. they are the only ones who are likely to press on this matter….but then…, not sure they’d get the platform

  • johnny lately

    Barney even if they did take their seats I doubt very much they would get a response as various Irish governments have requested and been repeatedly denied and ignored for them or an independent international observer to have access to files the British government have in their possession relating to the Dublin Monaghan bombings. In the case of Kingsmills why would the British MOD even have files relating to the atrocity that they wish to keep secret and just like Kingsmills and the Miami Showband atrocity, the person giving the orders had an upper class English accent.